Meet the Photographer: Stuart Michaels

by David Donno in ,

Photographer Stuart Michaels

Photographer Stuart Michaels

Visitors to the gallery over the past few days have been awed by the natural beauty and light that is captured in the images by Stuart Michaels in his current exhibition 'Geronimo's Candlelight'. In this blog post, we get to know the man behind the photographs..... 

How has your photography evolved? How do you see it evolving in the future?

We all like to take pictures, and we all seem to start as photographic 'snipers' – i.e. we “shoot” at things we happen to see. That's fine, and many people stay there, often doing it extremely well – Cartier Bresson is the prime example.

But the other sort of photographer are what I call “builders” - they design and plan what they want first, and spend a lot of time putting the components of props, light, treatment and subject matter together, only getting their camera out at the last moment.

I've done both, but it's the latter that interests me as the outcome is almost entirely dependent on your input, and that appeals – it seems fairer than chance. I've had a few lucky (and unrepeatable) shots, but the photographers I really admire were the highly skillful, “builders”.

I strive to be ever more skilful, whatever the subject. I'm always fascinated by how specialists go about their work and I kind of want to hoover up their knowledge and use it for my own ends!

Carol - Stuart Michaels

What's your favourite piece of work you've done and why?

A nude. (Carol.) Unusual for me. The model asked me to do it after a shoot; I haven't done many and it was very scary! The line between grace and disaster is very thin. This is my favorite photograph out of all I've shot, and I'm very proud of it, because of its elegance and light. It sits between the openly erotic and the classically graceful amazingly well, and gives a marvelous feeling of freshness, or cleanliness, or early morning, or ecstatic bliss, or whatever you want to read into it.



What are your tips for aspiring photographers?

1. Look at the work of the greats. Analyze why they work. Become angry that you can't do as well yourself, and use that anger to motivate yourself into doing better. Don't give up until you have emulated that standard at least once. Then try harder!

2. Do a good training course, like an HND. Learn your craft. It's never going to hurt you to know what you're doing. I dislike photographic degree courses – too much waffle, and I've yet to see an impressive image emerge from one.

3. Look, look, and look again at your subject, other photographs, and paintings. Analyze and learn from them – and your failures too.

4. Do what you love and keep trying to make better pictures of it.

5. Digital pictures are free. No excuse not to shoot – but Think before releasing the shutter! Don't take a thousand dull ones, take 3 excellent ones.

6. Use the best professional standard kit you can afford. Don't buy junk. You will never regret having good equipment. Treat it kindly and keep it spotless!

7. Fall in love with light. Watch it perform, anywhere. Learn from it. It's the most amazing thing I know.

What does photography mean to you?

It's been the driving force of my life. It's taken me to wonderful, privileged places and taught me to really see them - I often can't see what things really look like until I've taken their picture, and then I see them with extra insight.

What drove you to becoming a photographer?

Something inside making me wanting to make pictures. I really don't know why! I liked to draw as a kid but I was never very good at it. I went to art school and got no better! But I was a teenager in the 60's and the arts and music were exploding with creativity – I seemed to be surrounded with amazing images all the time, from the Burning Monk in Vietnam to Barbara Goalen looking impossibly haughty in her haute couture. Painting was astounding at that time too, and I loved the graphic power of the huge image. I can't paint but I still admire it. I shoot instead.

In your opinion, what makes a memorable photograph?

Impact, design, control, craftsmanship, composition, execution, wit, and flair.

How? That's harder..!

How do you know when a piece of work is completed? 

It takes two people to make an image.

One to shoot it, and another to hit the photographer on the head when it's done!

A key aspect of your photography is capturing the light at a specific moment. Have you ever missed an opportune moment?

Yes! I was shooting the pictures of the Grand Canyon that appear in the Geronimo's Candlelight exhibition. Sundown light moves fast in the canyon, and there's 270 miles of location to choose from. Having set up very carefully in a very particular location, some people suddenly arrived and set up a wedding right on the edge of my photograph! I have some pictures, but the wedding was facing the wrong way for me, and it seemed a bit much to ask them to move it round! I just had to give up gracefully..

What do you hope the viewers will take away from your 'Geronimo's Candlelight' exhibition?

A sense of wonder at place and light. I've tried to make pictures which reflect not so much of what was in front of the camera, but a sense of the particular place at a particular time as I felt it. Few of us rise at dawn, and of those who do, fewer have the time to stop and stare. The world seems fresh and new at this time before the weight of the day bears down on it. It always moves me, and I hope I've been able to communicate the joy of it.

What's the best thing that has happened to you whilst you have been travelling on a photography expedition?

The sudden eruption of the Aurora Borealis in Iceland on my first night there! I'd set up in the vain hope of actually seeing anything at all – yet literally the moment I did, the Aurora arrived – in interstellar style! It was like a giant curtain of light whipping across the sky at enormous speed. The dark, slightly starry heavens were suddenly splashed with brilliant green veils of light, exactly like a sheet of silk moving sideways at a thousand miles a second.

It was the best display of the week I was there. And I got the photo – which looks eerily like a gargantuan face.

The Geronimo's Candlelight exhibition is on at the Naked Eye Gallery until 25th October.